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Ireland promises 21,000 more student beds by 2024

Ireland’s Ministers for Education and Skills, Higher Education and Housing and Urban Renewal have launched a National Student Accommodation Strategy in a bid to curtail the country’s massive shortfalls in the supply of available bed spaces for university students.

Ireland, purpose built student accommodationPBSA on the campus of University College Dublin. The government estimates there are currently 5,200 bed spaces under construction in Ireland. Photo: UCD

"From an institutional perspective, it is an important part of the policy jigsaw"

The strategy lays out plans to increase the number of purpose built student accommodation beds in Ireland by 63%, equating to 21,000 beds, in seven years.

In addition to action plans to grow PBSA, the strategy also hopes to increase the number of available digs – rooms leased in private family homes – by 4,000 beds per annum by 2019.

The scheme is an effort to increase the supply of private accommodation for both local and international students which has not kept pace with demand. Currently there are just 33,400 available PBSA beds in the country to meet the demand for 57,000.

Dublin City University, for example, currently has four applications for every available bed space of on-campus student accommodation that it has available.

“It is clear that there is a requirement for investment from both publicly funded HEIs and private developers”

The government has said it will work alongside higher education institutions and the Housing Finance Agency on potential financing for PBSAs.

For instance, it will back Dublin Institute of Technology to deliver bed spaces for 2,000 students at DIT and support the development of a Housing Land Map – a database to identify the availability of land for development.

Given the significant upfront capital investment required to complete the projects, the strategy also encourages public private partnerships between higher education institutions and PBSA providers.

“It is clear that there is a requirement for investment from both publicly funded HEIs and private developers to seek to comprehensively address the identified shortfall in PBSA,” it notes.

The current shortfall of 23,000 beds is predicted to continue for at least another seven years, when demand for PBSA is predicted to outstretch supply by 20,000 beds.

The government hopes to alleviate this shortfall, albiet slightly, to 16,986 beds by 2024, by increasing the number of rooms leased in private family homes.

The strategy pledges €160,100 to the Union of Students Ireland for 2017 and 2018 to fund the #homesforstudy campaign and as well as a full-time student housing officer and training for student accommodation officers.

In 2016, USI received a grant of €30,000 to launch the #homesforstudy campaign which resulted in 2,400 more students in accommodation. In its 2017 budget, the government also increased the income tax ceiling from €12,000 to €14,000 for homeowners providing digs.

“This funding for USI allows us to support one of the best options to increase the supply of student accommodation which is for people to rent a spare room in their home to students,” Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said.

“It’s a win-win situation, as students get accommodation and homeowners can earn up to €14,000 a year tax-free doing this.”

Launching the strategy, Education and Skills Minister Richard Bruton noted that housing output in Ireland fell by over 90%, from 93,000 homes in 2006 to just over 8,301 in 2013.

“We lost a decade worth of home building after the crash of 2008 and the construction industry was in ruins with over 160,000 jobs lost.”

Since the 2016 launch of the country’s Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, however, 1,117 new student spaces have been built and more than 5,000 are under construction.

The target to deliver an additional 7,000 student places by 2019 “is likely to be exceeded” Bruton said.

“Through the implementation of this plan, we are aiming to deliver an additional 21,000 purpose built student accommodation bed spaces by 2024. Through the Student Accommodation Strategy we will ensure that this target can be reached,” he said.

Higher education enrolments are expected to grow in Ireland 27% by 2030. And the International Education Strategy announced last year set a growth target of 33% for the higher education sector.

The current shortfall of 23,000 beds is predicted to continue for at least another seven years

If met, the number of international students will rise from 33,118 in 2014/15 to approximately 44,000 by the end of the 2019/20 academic year.

Douglas Proctor, director of international affairs at University College Dublin, commented that the plan doesn’t provide a short-term solution to international students and their parents, but “it is a strong indication that this is a matter of governmental concern and that action is being taken”.

“From an institutional perspective, it is an important part of the policy jigsaw,” he said.

The government hopes that with the addition of 21,000 more beds and 4,000 more digs, it can free up 5,000 rental units for the wider rental sector – where many international graduate students prefer to stay, noted Proctor.

“Purpose built student accommodation is only one part of the mix in terms of international student accommodation,” he said.

“Although the new strategy does not address this directly, a greater supply of purpose built accommodation is likely to relieve some of the pressure on the private rental market over time.”

One crucial component of the Accommodation Strategy will be the ongoing quarterly tracking report on public and private housing development, Proctor commented.

“This will provide reassurance to the sector, and to prospective students, that the targeted numbers of new beds are indeed on track,” he said.

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